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"Light Upon Light"


Interpretation of Quranic Ayat - Sura Noor
By Al-Waez R. D. Shariff
God is the light of the heavens
and the earth.
The likeness of this light is a
niche
in which there is a lamp,
the lamp in a glass,
the glass like a glittering star,
kindled from a blessed olive tree,
an olive that is neither of the east
nor the west,
the oil of which could shine
without being touched by fire.
Light upon light;
God guides whom He please.
- Quran 24:35
Before we endeavor to interpret
the Qur'anic symbols, it is better
to make it plain as to what we
mean by the four garments,
which our traveler has acquired
from the 'Strangers at the Gates.'
The first was his spiritual body,
the function of which is knowing.
The second was his mental body, the function of which is thinking. The third was his
emotional body, the function of which is feeling. The fourth was his physical body,
the function of which is doing. He is endowed with certain faculties: fire, air, water
and earth--the four basic elements, which compose the human body. The Quranic
verse, with its own fundamental symbols is a manifestation of this truth. The mystery
surrounding the whole of the verse must be appreciated at the very outset. God's
divine light cannot be revealed directly to man. Why there has never been a direct
divine revelation is a definite mystery, but this begins to be unfolded if a human soul
by intense meditation reaches its ultimate reality. But so far as we are imprisoned
within these physical shells, God shall always speak to humanity in parables.
Now we come ultimately to the mystic path to unfold this verse. To all those who
wish to tread this path, I beseech: let us walk together in love and prayers and
tolerance, so that we may fathom the deeper mysteries of God.
The hint given earlier by me can now be revealed more fully and clearly, that this
verse and its five symbols stand for man's reincarnation upon this earth--and that
within his body, mind, heart, spirit, and what we call 'Life" is hidden his Soul, the
Light of God--and it is through his 'Life' upon the earth that he must search the inner
reality and find himself and God.
Thus the Niche in the verse symbolizes his physical incarnation, his body or the
temporal vehicle. But it is not an ordinary vessel. The Creator has blessed it by
enshrining within it a lamp, within which shines eternally His Light. It is the presence
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of this Lamp in man and only those who are aware of its Divine Presence, or have
had its glimpse, can be said to have lived their lives truly.
The next symbol is the Lamp. The Lamp is the core of the spiritual truth, and which is
the true source if illumination. Let us try to study this 'Lantern' which we all carry
within ourselves. The Quranic symbols, which follow after the Lamp clearly show its
structure, --the Glass, the Olive Tree, and the Olive Oil, the last being the real source
of divine illumination. Thus the Lamp although far higher than the Niche is still at a
lower level than the pure light itself. Thus with these five symbols, the life-energy as
manifested within the human body becomes finer and subtler, that is, Niche is the
body, the Lamp is the entire, whole, indivisible, indwelling spirit, sustaining,
nourishing man, yet encased within the Glass with three significant meanings: (i) a
transparent medium through which the light passes to illuminate the humanity and if
it is in true harmony with the indwelling spirit can become the brilliant rising star of
the human destiny; (ii) it is a protective shield against the lower and baser motives
in man, and (iii) by failing to harmonize with the spirit, it may transmit a false image
of the external world to the inner being. In a larger sense the glass truly and logically
stands for the mind. Between the external world of the senses and the inner realm of
reality, stands the mind. The Olive Tree is the source of the oil. I must admit that I
found this symbol difficult to understand, and before we attempt its interpretation,
we have to retrace out footsteps and attempt a brief recapitulation.
According to our logical thinking, we represented the human body as the Niche,
whose function is to transmit to the human mind through its five sensory mediums,
the external world. The Lamp is the entire life-force or the living spirit, whose first
layer is the Glass or the mind, which is subtler and finer than the body. Its function is
to record the data conveyed to it by the senses and to create out of its power of
imagination a realm of knowledge. This line of thought I believe should lead to the
'tree' as the heart, which 'manufactures' the oil, the essential fuel. In the
physiological sense the heart is very much like the tree. From the psychological point
of view, it is the discursive spirit, which on receiving the data of reasoning from the
mind, combines them and creates pure reason. It is also a seat of human emotions
and feelings. The heart like the tree is a creation of two worlds. The tree has its roots
deep down into the dark earth, and its crown uplifted to meet the finer elements
from the above. So also the heart has lower animal instincts and yet it inspires man
to strive for the supreme pinnacles of life. How does it do this? By producing and
generating the essential fuel to ignite and enkindle the light of divine illumination,
the Olive Oil. The oil produces the most radiant illumination in man. This is of course
in the symbolic sense of man being the lantern. This fuel represents a spirit higher
than the mind and the heart, for in its composition there is no base element. It is so
luminous, that it seems to be as if self-igniting, and bestows the transcendental
prophetic spirit to man. I believe it to be immortal and continuous in its memory,
knowledge and wisdom.
But it awaits the ultimate spark from the Divinity, and until that spark ignites it, it
remains dormant. At this stage our spiritual quest into the mysteries of this verse
reaches its climax. This indwelling lantern, having the fuel and the glass and placed
in a niche, shall only be ignited by the grace of God--this is clearly manifested in the
words: Light upon Light; God guides to His Light whom He pleases. And when God's
infinite love descends upon his spirit, he is awakened and enlightened from the deep
slumbers of all births and deaths. That moment is a moment of reawakening, when
man sees himself as Himself. That moment is a moment of rebirths, for man is
reborn a superman, a prophet. That is his true birth, the birth of an ever living spirit,
the dawn of Cosmic Consciousness, in which his past, present, and future all become
one. In that supreme moment man achieves his ultimate Destiny--the Spiritual Union
with God.

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Ameen
Source:
The Ismaili Literary Critic Souvenir
July 1966
Published by Shia Imami Ismaili Association, Nairobi, Kenya
pp 41-49
Thanks to Rai Hoosein Khanmohammed for providing the source to this article.
Related Links
Light upon Light
The Importance of Studying Ismailism by Professor Ivanow
The Religion of My Ancestors by Aga Khan III - Mowlana Sultan Mahomed Shah

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